Tennessee football fans hoping to catch a glimpse of their favorite Volunteers stars next month at Milligan College might want to get a telescope.
Tennessee will practice at Milligan from Aug. 9-15 in a move that is expected to simultaneously generate more exposure for Milligan and isolation for Tennessee.
It should be the most surreal setting on college football’s summer stage. Milligan doesn’t have a football program. Tennessee, presumably packing its own goalposts, will practice on soccer fields and a baseball field.
The migration is being made, in part, to coincide with Tennessee’s move into its Football Training Center — a $42 million addition to the Neyland-Thompson Sports Center. But team unity is also a goal on the soccer-field mission.
Tennessee’s players and some 95 other staffers will make the two-hour trek from Knoxville, and that’ll apparently be the closest thing to any pageantry. After arriving in Carter County, the Big Orange is expected to be the forbidden fruit.
“It’s not the Big Orange Caravan, it’s a work week,” Milligan College vice president for student development Mark Fox said. “We’ve had all kinds of people offering to do this and that. … Unfortunately, with their schedule time doesn’t allow it.”
Coach Derek Dooley’s third season in Knoxville could be his last. Two critical games are in the first three weeks of the season — against North Carolina State in Atlanta on Aug. 31 and a home game against a young Florida team on Sept. 15.
The Vols’ offense has the potential to be dynamic if the heads of quarterback Tyler Bray and receiver Da’Rick Rogers are screwed on straight. Rogers is one of three tall, athletic receivers thanks to the return of Justin Hunter, who suffered a season-ending knee injury at Florida last September, and the arrival of touted junior-college signee Cordarrelle Patterson. And Bray should have plenty of time to survey their routes behind a veteran offensive line.
But incorporating Patterson and some new running backs should help make the unconventional segment of training camp at Milligan all the more stressful, especially if nosey fans were to keep Vols’ noses from the grindstone.
Access by car will be limited — something decided before Bray’s recent misstep — with Buffalo Creek Road and the main drag through campus being closed much of the week. Fox said the city of Elizabethton has been helpful, as has Carter County sheriff Chris Mathes.
The price tag for Tennessee’s trip, a source in Knoxville said, is expected to reach six figures, and the vast majority will go directly to Milligan.
Milligan also gets the publicity. Fox has recently spoken with the Chattanooga Times-Free Press, Volquest.com, InsideTennessee.com, and a Knoxville TV station is coming Tuesday.
He hasn’t heard from ESPN, but it’s difficult to forecast just what outlets might show up once Rocky Top has been transplanted. There will be a media work room near Fox’s office during the week.
Fox has been in seemingly constant contact with UT personnel, including associate athletic director David Blackburn, director of football operations Brad Pendergrass, media relations director Jimmy Stanton, equipment manager Roger Frazier, head trainer Jason McVeigh, nutritionist Allison Maurer and turf specialist Darren Seybold.
“It’s nothing overwhelming,” Fox said, “just a tremendous amount of details.”
The task is proving to be an invaluable experience that’s been more exciting than burdensome — not that Fox anticipates parlaying this into a new football program. He said Milligan still needs to better mind its store before putting anything new in the main showcase.
“This is not a precursor to Milligan College football,” he said. “I don’t think it’s very likely.”
Milligan normally has 3,000 to 4,000 summer campers on campus for various sports and activities, and Fox described hosting the Volunteers as a “souped-up” session. Everything from inadequate security to not enough port-o-potties close to the fields could stop up the flow of efficiency Dooley desires.
Dooley’s primary concerns other than privacy were film rooms and field surface, according to Fox, who said Seybold has done wonders in top-dressing Milligan’s fields. He said Seybold has visited several times, and accomplished in a matter of hours what Milligan would’ve needed a few days to get done.
The speed and capacity of Milligan College’s information technology has also been upgraded, something Fox said probably wouldn’t have been done for a couple of years.
“Our president (Bill Greer) was committed to taking proceeds and improving campus,” said Fox, who wouldn’t comment on a specific figure. “The revenue that will be generated was unbudgeted revenues.”
Some Milligan student-athletes will be on campus, and alternative arrangements have been made for them to practice during what Tennessee officials expect to be a one-time adventure.
“Our students come in on Saturday the 18th,” Fox said. “They (Volunteers) leave Thursday morning the 16th. It’s a short turnaround and there’s a lot of work involved … but I think this is a win-win situation.”